35 years after the masterful ‘Bend Sinister’ of The Fall

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(Credit: Album cover / Press)

It’s 1986 and synths seem to be taking over the world like a proto-Daft Punk version of Terminator. A brave antihero sits in the corner of a Salford Spit and Sawdust pub. Although on the surface it simply appears to be quietly swollen by itself until it reaches the peak misanthroirritated status it is in fact about to rise up, grab the music industry by the backhands and shake it like a Skoda passing over a cattle grid, destroying the icons of all the filthy Bolsheviks and stabbed bastards that ‘he perceives to be in his own way. He’s part genius, part maniac Mark E Smith who ruled The Fall like a warlord as they continued to march within the confines of culture.

For seven years, he had shattered the norm like a demented demon of the demigod, unleashing a cyclonic barrage of hellfire. Stumbling, he carried a legion of devoted fans (all fifty thousand) into this maelstrom. He stands out from the snarling punk pit as the only rock star who really didn’t care what other people thought. However, he cared about his own music and with Sinister fold in 1986, he would seize his largest traditional territory to date, entering the top 50 of the charts as an unwelcome but unassailable funeral stamp thief.

There would be no point in praising his wild ways if there was no substance to back them up. What separated him from the average temperamental traveler traversing the cobbled streets of Salford was a style of poetry similar to that of Charles Baudelaire after twelve pints of ultra-strong lager, with the kaleidoscopic colorings of a particularly caustic John Cooper Clarke, and the biggest fucking attitude the world has known since John the Baptist. Sinister fold saw this one man army approaching its human wrecking ball peak. Understandably, it wasn’t an album that catapulted the irascible marginal hero to stardom, but 36 in the UK charts were the heights of mid-latitudes purgatory and that’s as high as a bastard like Smith did. never been achieved.

Sinister fold proved The Fall was too original to be allowed into the commercial stratosphere and too big for the “cult” slump lead boots. However, as other groups in this creative no-mans-land faded or fled to the point of the seven-year itch, The Fall began to form permanent holdings. An approach much like the daring novelist Vladimir Nabokov, whose 1947 effort Smith pilfered for the album title. In Nabokov’s novel, he explains: “This choice of title was an attempt to suggest an outline broken by refraction, a distortion in the mirror of being, a wrong turn taken by life.

For the album, Mark E Smith seems to take this idea and use it. In the dystopian novel, Nabokov does his best to retreat from the foreground and Smith follows suit, creating space for the instrumentation to flow. With Brix Smith’s Rising Agent also firmly ensuring that the hellish landscape isn’t ruled solely by Satan, the sound is a bit less hectic and a tighter pinch than usual. This more controlled approach allows a good fit with the concept. The consistency of artistic conception behind the album makes it one of The Fall’s most eye-catching and easy-to-tackle efforts; it’s more of a firm challenge but fair on the usual post-punk standards than an Achilles scratching slide tackle.

As always with The Fall, however, writing an individual record review isn’t that easy without taking into account the full tapestry of Smith’s muse. Despite all of Brix Smith’s mediation and more withdrawn approach, he still shared his toys with glowing eyes and vowed to recall them in the blink of an eye. The perfect paradigm of this comes from the fact that he found himself recording part of the album at the prestigious Abbey Road Studios with famous producer Mark Leckie. It was pioneering territory where the future of music unfolded, and all Smith had to say was “We’re not fucking U2, record it live!”

With this iconoclastic creative style, The Fall warned of the technological dystopia of synths rising around them and the Sinister fold shield was the scintillating sonic response that made its way vitally towards the general public, but never with such force that it couldn’t back away from the bar. It’s a masterpiece that only one person could be capable of, and it’s true, I know full well, because it happened.

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